Feeling Time

Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

One evening last week, I got dressed up (well, if fleece leggings under a long skirt passes for dressed up) and made my way to Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theater to see the musical, “Pippin!” I was very excited to go to my first big theater event in the Twin Cities – and there was the added element of adventure since I was attending alone (though I planned to say hello to my favorite usher, who was working that night). I had longed to see this show for several reasons. First, since high school, I have loved the show’s most well-known song, “Corner of the Sky”. Second, I saw a piece on CBS Sunday Morning about the preparations and practice the touring cast (the very cast I was about to see) had made to be ready for this physically demanding revival, re-imagined as a circus-themed production complete with acrobatics and high-flying aerials. Third, I knew nothing about the actual story, so the show would be almost entirely new to me.

A fourth reason I was excited about this particular experience was that it was taking place at the Orpheum Theater. Years ago, before I ever thought of moving here, I visited my friend Mike on a Halloween weekend. That visit was memorable for several reasons, most importantly because I met Mike’s sons (Alex and Matt) for the first time. One of the things we did that weekend was take a haunted tour of the Orpheum. It was a fun, almost magical, tour – but not once did it occur to me that I would ever attend a show in that beautiful, historic theater. So, as you might imagine, my heart was full before I walked in the door to see Pippin. (Oh, and my favorite usher, mentioned above? Mike, of course!)

I found my aisle seat, toward the back of the main floor. I was thrilled, as a vertically challenged viewer, to discover that no one was seated in front of me. In fact, mine was the only occupied seat in my entire row and the row in front of me. The house lights went down and the stage lights up, and I was in my own little envelope of space with the show.

A brief plot synopsis might be helpful. Pippin is a young prince who feels he is called to lead an extraordinary life, and sets out in search of his place among meaningful events and activities. In the end, however, he discovers that giving your heart to the life you have is truly meaningful, even if that life is one of ordinary pursuits. (Check out www.stephenschwartz.com if you want to know what the show’s creator has to say about its themes and meaning.)

In Act 1, Scene 4, Pippin visits his grandmother, Berthe (played in the show I saw by the amazing, Tony-award-winning Priscilla Lopez). Berthe’s show-stopping number, “No Time At All”, was a song I knew but didn’t realize was from Pippin. The 66-year-old Berthe/Lopez not only looks incredible when she strips down to a trapeze-artists’ costume, she manages to fly through the air AND SING, appearing completely at home in the aerial number. “No Time At All” becomes an audience sing-along, and while I thoroughly enjoyed belting out the choruses, by the last one, I found myself overcome by emotion.

Now, days after my Pippin! experience, I find myself still singing that chorus – and ready to share why it choked me up.

One reason was the sheer admiration I felt for Priscilla Lopez. What an inspiration that was – I hope in my mid-60s to be ready, willing and able to engage so audaciously with the challenges life offers me.

But there was also a more spiritual component to what I felt. Throughout my life, there have been moments when, in the midst of a special experience, I have felt myself step out of the stream of time. When this happens, my “normal” self remains as is, doing whatever it is doing. In this case, I remained in my seat thoroughly enjoying the performance. But my consciousness somehow steps outside my experience, and is able to look upon it (and myself) with some separation. Briefly, at Pippin, I stood outside the moment, and saw myself shining with enjoyment, radiating life and energy. The worries and cares of the day had dissipated, I was no longer concerned about the financial splurge required to purchase my ticket; no longer worried that I had forgotten where in the unfamiliar ramp my car was parked; no longer awkward about indulging in this experience solo. Looking at myself, I saw beauty. I knew that this is how we are meant to live: without unreasoning fear, without concern for conforming to expectations, but with energy and joy for this moment we have been given. The gift of this present.

As we grow older, our sense of time changes. It rushes past us, faster each year. Sometimes I am stunned that another week, month or even year is already gone. This feeling of time rushing past creates anxiety, bordering often on fear. Though people talk about young adults being in too much of a hurry, of their need to slow down and let their lives unfold, I am finding that this is much harder to do at 53 than it was at 23 or 33. Back then, I thought I knew there was time for everything. Now, I am very aware as each day passes that it was another grain of sand in a rapidly diminishing hour-glass. I can’t count the grains that are left and I have no way to accrue more than are already there. This makes it very difficult to allow my life to unfold. To have patience. And so the anxiety creeps in, ratchets up as I worry that I’m not moving fast enough in my life.

The gift I received during that musical number was awareness that this is a false sensation. It is always time to be living, always time to make the most of this world we’re given. Spring will turn to fall, it is inevitable. No point in getting all angst-y about it. No point in regretting the past or looking with fear toward the future. I am not in control of it. All I can do is choose how I interact with the gift of the present as it unfolds. I can be in it, living it, or I can waste it with fear, worry, anxiety.

When I arrived home after the show (after having no difficulty finding my car in the ramp, though I drove in circles on the one-way streets downtown for a while) I was still so energized by the experience that I couldn’t sleep. I posted this on my Facebook page:  “This is what the best art in any medium can do: shine a light into our shadowed spaces and allow us to see with new eyes.”

We are often advised in life to “pick our battles”. What I’m seeing with new eyes this week, thanks to Pippin!, is that my battle isn’t with Time. Time is unchanging – time is as and what it is. My battle is with false perceptions of time, which lead to fear and anxiety. And that is a battle I know I can win with faith in God, trust in myself, and attention to this gift of the present.


Renewable Energy: Tapping our Inner Resources

I continued to focus on my breath, exhaling forcefully then inhaling again without a pause. Inside, I began to feel a buzzing, humming sensation similar to standing next to an electrical generator. It began at my diaphragm and radiated upward. I could feel the energy expanding and filling my body, sending electricity through my arms and up through my chest, my neck, my head. My facial muscles began to twitch involuntarily, until suddenly there was a huge pulse of internal light and I felt as if the energy that had been building inside me had just burst forth. It leaked out through my pores, and shone in a beam of light out the the top of my head. 

At least that’s how I pictured it in my minds eye.

I felt radiant, expansive, and more than usually ALIVE. After a few minutes, I spoke quietly to my friend, Melissa, who was standing next to me. “Can you feel that?” I asked.

“Your energy field is about out to here,” she said, holding her hand roughly 16 inches in front of me. “I can see it.” Truthfully, I could feel her hand before I opened my eyes, even though it was more than a foot from my body. 

Last summer I volunteered to assist my friend, Melissa, who has been getting her certification as a facilitator in guided breath work. The experience described above was from our tenth and final session last week. What I’ve felt during these sessions has varied, but the best ones have led to similar high-voltage experiences.

It’s got me thinking a lot this week about energy: how we get it, how we make use of it, how we replenish it.

As a starting point, let’s consider that Albert Einstein said energy “cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form into another.” While Einstein’s words carry the weight of scientific genius, they remind me of another quote that I have seen attributed to various famous individuals: we can be miserable or we can be happy – the amount of work is the same. I take these statements, together, to mean that we are expending energy no matter what. Whether that energy is spent procrastinating, complaining, creating or exclaiming is up to us. It is all energy.

If energy can only be transformed, then a good place to start is with fear and love. Fear is an energy that makes us smaller, causes us to contract. It vibrates on one frequency. Love is an energy that enlarges us and our world, that helps us to expand beyond previous boundaries and expectations. Love vibrates on a different frequency than fear. It seems a fairly safe bet to say that connecting with what we love is more likely to produce positive energy, and positive results, than connecting with our fears.

In my experience, authentically engaging with others and with the world around me often leads to feelings of increased energy. Authentic engagement is a form of love energy. It calls for openness and vulnerability – you have to share some true part of yourself for this to come about. With others, this can mean lowering your defenses and/or pretenses. With the world, I believe this means being open to possibilities, allowing our guarded hearts to be cracked open by beauty or the ineffable. There is a quality of permeability that is called for. We have to be willing to let what is outside us touch us on the inside, as well as to allow our deep selves to come out of hiding.

For example, risking authenticity with others has recently led to offers of mentoring and support for my creative endeavors. It has also yielded the opportunity to brainstorm with a friend about a new business venture she is contemplating. Risking authenticity means I am now actively feeling that internal buzz that signals high energy frequencies. My creative juices are flowing and I can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to address all I want to accomplish.

Another important factor that allows our energy to be transformed into something powerful is the simple step of taking action. I would never berate wishful thinking, daydreaming, or hoping – I believe that spending time in these activities allows us to open up to new ways of seeing the world and to new possibilities. However, it can also lead to an energy build-up that, if we give way to procrastination or just move on with the mundane tasks of life rather than implement some portion of what we dream about, dissipates without transforming. Worse, habitually doing this leads to negative energy – we feel like failures who have wasted our time and our talents. Feeling this way adds to the inertia we were already fighting.

The opposite is true, though, if we begin to take action. If you’ve ever spent time dreaming or wishing you could conquer some obstacle, then taken even a small step toward resolving the problem, creating the solution, or achieving the goal you’ve seen it can lead to an incredible upsurge of positive energy. Suddenly, you find you’ve moved farther faster than you thought possible. That higher energy frequency you’ve attained is allowing you to experience what has been described as “flow”. Or, as motivational speaker Tony Robbins has said, “The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.”

Now, I’ve been talking about the kind of energy that can be generated from within, from attuning your heart and your mind to things you love, things that you think of as positives. There is also the kid of energy that is generated by a healthy body – one that is fueled well with clean eating and good hydration, moves well due to exercise, and is rejuvenated by restful sleep. This kind of energy cannot be overrated in any way. However, that’s another post entirely!

In thinking about my expanding energy field during my last breath work session, it occurs to me that we all have energy reserves we may not be aware of – that these reserves are available for our use should we choose reach for them, and that they are inexhaustible. This doesn’t mean that if we begin to practice using them we will never feel our energies flagging (sometimes this happens for reasons beyond our control, such as illness). Instead, when we do feel our energies vibrating toward fear, procrastination, inaction, or isolation we have inner resources we can tap. All we need do is remember to engage with our love instead of our fear. That, and breathe.


Fear and Freedom at the Bus Stop

One morning, I put my clothes in a washer at the laundromat and, as has become my habit, left them while I walked around the block to the coffee shop. That particular morning, I was headed back to my laundry, large Americano in hand, when I came upon a group of children waiting for their school bus.

The children stood in mostly silent clusters with their parents. There were one or two quiet conversations between adults and children, but otherwise, everyone stood – eyes forward – waiting. Not too different from most bus-stop behavior I’ve observed here in the city.

What struck me as odd, however, was how wildly different this experience was from my own childhood school-bus-waiting experience. I walked to school with my siblings through most of the early grades, so my first experience with busing to school was in 6th grade when we moved into a housing subdivision in Hastings, Minnesota. I took a bus to school most days from 6th grade through my junior year of high school in Ohio. Not one single day in all those years did I stand silently with adults, eyes forward. Most days, if I wasn’t running to catch the bus at the last second, I was joining in tumultuous, cacophonous, playful engagement with my peers.

One could argue that this difference is partly due to the fact that these children live in the heart of the city. But as I drive to work, through the affluent neighborhoods of Edina, I observe the same scene repeatedly, parents and children waiting together, mostly silent or interacting with one another in their family groups.

I have nothing against children spending more time with their parents than we did back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid. I am concerned, though, about what this says about being a child (or a parent)- namely, that children are only safe when they are with their parents. In at least one incident in Silver Spring, Maryland, parents have been investigated for allowing their children to walk freely through their neighborhood unaccompanied by adults. The mother, quoted in this USA Today article, says, “I grew up in New York City in the 70s and nobody hesitated to let their kids walk around. The only thing that’s changed between then and now is our fear.”

This mother’s statement cuts to the heart of what bothers me about the kids waiting for their bus the other morning. I’m not a parent, but I do understand the fear. Anyone who has ever loved a small child understands the desire to protect that child; anyone who lives in our current cultural climate understands the fear of dark possibilities. But, as Cheryl Strayed says earlier in the passage quoted above, “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves.”

I have to ask: is this the story we want to live in?

I’ve found myself limited by fear time and again. Some of these fears result from the story our culture tells women. That story goes something like this: “Be careful how you dress, where you walk, when you are alone – you are not safe. Bad things can and likely will happen to you. And if you have not met every one of the spoken and unspoken expectations for appropriate behavior, it will be your own fault when the bad thing(s) occur.” There is a narrative like this readily recognizable for whatever group you are part of: gender-, culture-, or role-based.

But I’ve also learned that we don’t have to live in that fear-based world. Many years ago, after my sister first came out to our family, my parents and I attended Iowa City’s gay pride rally with her. We heard a speaker who challenged the audience with this statement, “If you want to live in a world in which you can walk down the street holding your lover’s hand, then walk down the street holding your lover’s hand and you will be living in that world.” As I’ve watched my gay and lesbian friends marrying and creating families together, as I walk through this city and see couples freely expressing their affection, I am amazed to find that we ARE living in that world. Has every person working to create that reality done so safely? Sadly, no. I would argue, though, that even those who have suffered to create this new story would say it has been worth the risks.

So, what exactly am I advocating? Am I saying parents shouldn’t accompany their children to the bus? Of course not. But I am asking us to question the story we are telling ourselves about the world we live in. The story that says we should face each day and each choice from the perspective of fear. The story that says we are at risk of life and limb in every moment. The story that says a fearful response to our world is the only prudent response. When we participate in creating a culture that is fear-based, we also create individual lives that are fear based. And those lives end up being so much smaller than the lives we are capable of living.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Friends to Fan the Flames

In January, I selected and announced that my “One Word” for 2015 is ignite. The great thing about choosing one word for the year is that it is aspirational, keeps what you want/hope for in front of you over time, and often inspires you to take a chance when you might otherwise take a pass.

Checking in after the first month, my one word remains aspirational. At least, that’s how it appears and, if I’m being completely truthful, how it mostly feels. It is winter, after all, the time of year during which the earth prepares for new growth. When I look out my window I see (finally) a blanket of snow. I don’t know about anyone else, but snow and winter browns and grays don’t immediately speak to me of growth. But while I’m recalibrating my own goals and working to strike the spark that will ignite my year, I’m taking inspiration from a variety of sources.

My friends Victoria and Kate are challenging themselves to find adventure in both big and small ways in their lives this year. They have been using the catchphrase “> than zero” as a reminder that action and activity trump inertia. I love this concept and have borrowed it to remind myself that grand acts aren’t always necessary – I don’t need to psych myself out coming up with Big Results. Getting up and challenging myself to get moving and reach even a bit further is definitely greater than zero.

I’m also inspired by Mike’s very different approach: he has set himself an audacious goal and a very specific time frame in which to achieve it. Success in his endeavor will require hard work, determination and focus. More important, it requires that he think carefully about his choices each day so that he makes the ones that support what he wants in the long run, rather than simply what he wants in the moment. It is inspiring to watch someone work this hard for what they want.

Over on Facebook, I always check out what my friends Melissa (a.k.a. Monkey) and Jessica have to say – their attention to growing into their best selves, and their generosity in sharing their positive energy and insights with the rest of us, always bring me joy and a feeling of renewal – they remind me that I want to do that for others, too.

My writing group encourages me to experiment and to push myself toward greater creative expression. In fact, this list could go on. In big ways and small, many of the people in my life are taking steps to spark positive change in their own lives or communities – and inspiring others along the way.

As I think of all of these people, my greatest sources of inspiration and support for actualizing my own goals and dreams, I’m reminded just how important it is to surround oneself with people who call forth the best in you. Positive energy begets positive energy – much like a spark starts a fire. The spark may be banked among coals throughout the dark of night (or the cold of winter), but when exposed to enough oxygen, flames will grow. Choose your friends, influencers,  and social media contacts carefully – they will either help you create an environment for growth or they can suck up all the oxygen with their negative energy, making it very difficult to get flames to ignite.

So, my “One Word” status report report one month in? I’m not “the girl on fire”. Yet.  And that’s ok. There’s a spark glowing in my heart, and my friends are helping to keep it alive until it’s ready to burst into flame.